23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.
Verse 23 gives the mature believer perspective on what happens if the immature Christian goes against his conscience.
23 But he who doubts
“Doubts” means to waver between two judgments. The two judgments here are to eat or not to eat foods perceived as unholy. The immature believer is uncertain about what to do with the issue of liberty.
is condemned if he eats,
The immature believer who eats food that goes against his norms is condemned by his own conscience. The Greek indicates that the weaker Christian “stands condemned” in his own eyes. He lives in a permanent state of guilt in his personal norms.
If someone thinks something is wrong, then it is wrong for him whether or not he interprets the Bible properly. If he is uncertain about whether God approves of his actions but indulges in them anyhow, he plainly sins against his conscience.
If the weaker brother eats to placate the strong, then he violates his self-imposed scruples. He eats because others are doing it. He does not want to stand out as a minority on the issue. He does not want to be different and fears ridicule or unpopularity. However, by doing this he violates his personal integrity. He eats without confidence and condemns himself in doing it.
because he does not eat from faith;
The weak Christian goes against his personal perspective on Scripture when he eats unholy food without a firm conviction that the Bible permits it. He is not confident that his faith (conscience) permits him to eat or not. He does not trust his freedom in doing so.
for whatever is not from [out of] faith is sin.
Doubt is incompatible with faith; that is, a clear conscience must always go with its convictions.
Paul used “sin” here in a different sense than the normal biblical usage. The idea is that if the immature believer violates his belief that eating unholy meat is sinful, then it is wrong to violate his conscience. This does not mean that it was wrong in fact but simply a distortion to violate his personal norms. He has not brought himself to practice liberty with a free conscience. He violates his personal integrity
The point of this verse is to convince the stronger Christian to understand where the immature believer comes from in his conscience. The mature needs to understand that the weaker brother would sin if he moved against his conscience and personal integrity. Since the weaker Christian does not have the liberty of the stronger, the mature believer should give deference to the weaker.
God’s desire is that the mature take the initiative in understanding the immature, rather than the reverse.
Immature Christians have the tendency to bind everyone else with their legalistic views. They want uniformity. They desire to make others in the image of their weak interpretation of Scripture. The mature Christian must not accept this rigidity and undermine his own liberty and proper understanding of Scripture in doing so.
Weak Christians have a proclivity to place guilt into their souls. This is because they live by scruples, legalism, and self-conceived concepts of spirituality. When they go against their conscience and eat meat, drink wine, or worship on a non-prescribed day, they do not understand the principles of grace. Their taboos put them in a place of violating their conscience. Whatever violates their conscience is sin. They are at odds with themselves and their perceived standards for living. When they do this, they operate under the guilt of violating their self-constructed norms. They put themselves in a jail of their own making. Therefore, when they are in doubt, they shouldn’t do it.
The principles of liberty and grace are based on ideas taken directly from Scripture; however, scruples drawn from culture or personal prejudice do not have an adequate basis for belief. One is based on doctrine and the other is not. In fact, legalism is the opposite of grace. Legalism rests on what we do for God, whereas grace places its confidence in what God does for us. Legalism is what makes for immature believers who function on their own resources rather than on provisions God has made for them.
Having said that, there is another issue at hand. A mature believer can eat any meat and practice worship on any day with a free conscience, but an immature Christian cannot do this with a clear conscience because he has created self-imposed norms of his own making. Until he learns principles of living by grace, he cannot violate those norms. The mature Christian must learn about this tension that the immature faces so that the weaker Christian can grow into an edification construct or reach the stage of maturity.